Sunday, November 4, 2007

Cocido Madrileño

I’ve had a hankering for some Cocido Madrileño lately, so I made some today, despite the fact that I knew I would end up with too many leftovers.

In honor of the occasion, I have resurrected some thoughts on the subject from my sojourn in Spain from the summer of 2000.

Sat. Sept. 30, 2000

I have just dined on that marvelous concoction known as Cocido Madrileño. Now that the weather has become brisk, it seemed appropriate to consume vast quantities of garbanzo beans and other gaseous substances to fortify my being for the next two weeks of ever-darkening winter.

I have had gas on my mind ever since yesterday, when I bought for 500 pesetas a copy of Quevedo´s Gracias y desgracias del ojo del culo, an engaging treatise on the wonders of the anus in which he compares the ojo del culo with those of the face and finds that the rear orifice has much more to recommend it. It can be a little disquieting at times imagining the great ones of Golden Age poetry being overly preoccupied with bodily functions, but given the state of hygiene back then I imagine it would be hard to avoid the subject. Of course one good reading of El Buscón is enough to confirm that Quevedo didn´t consider this or practically any other subject off limits.

So after a morning’s perusal of Gracias y desgracias, followed by a long-overdue haircut (where I accidentally stiffed the peluquera while trying to tip her, but that’s another story) I ended up down by Sol and the Doña Juana restaurant, which offered Cocido for 1200 pesetas. I´m not one to pass up cheap cocido, especially on a day like this.

I had not eaten cocido in quite a while. I remember eating some very good cocido cooked by a housewife in Ponferrada, long ago. Of course, being Ponferrada, in the westernmost reaches of the León province, it wasn’t exactly Cocido Madrileño. It was much better, in fact, not only because it was served by a pleasant ama de casa instead of a cranky waiter, but also because it was much heavier on the chorizo, giving the broth a pleasant red zip. This stuff today was bland by comparison.

Cocido is the Spanish version of a boiled dinner. It’s loaded with meat of all descriptions: chorizo, morcilla, tocino, beef, chicken; garbanzo beans, potato, cabbage. While examining my plate it occurred to me that at least half of those ingredients, had serious explosive potential. With cocido you get the broth served first as soup, then the rest follows as a second course.

Over at the next table was a group of middle aged tourists trying to decide what the menu was offering. They were all from Mexico (I gathered) which just goes to show that it is not just Americans who are not quite at home with a Spanish menu. They were saying things like: “Caldo gallego – that´s like cocido, isn´t it?” “I don´t know. Does it have garbanzos?” “Callos madrileños. Is that the same as menudo?” “Ask the waiter.” One guy decided to take the plunge and order callos. Everyone else stayed safe with paella and trout. When the callos came, the main question everyone had was “is it menudo?”

I for one have steered clear of callos on this trip. I once had a mission companion from Andalucía who told me he grew up on callos and that I had to try them. They come in a sort of coagulated brick in the deli section of the supermarket. He prepared them by melting the brick over the stove, and as it warmed it filled the kitchen with the aroma of fresh barnyard. Once they were cooked, the flavor wasn’t bad. Texture-wise they were vaguely reminiscent of overcooked squid mixed with boiled fat. Still, with the smell in the kitchen I couldn’t quite get past the idea that I might as well dine down at the pig trough, followed by a good, brisk roll in the muck. For that reason I have never – despite years of living in Santa Monica – been tempted by all the Mexican restaurants advertising in giant, booming letters “hay menudo.” The dish in general just does not call to me in quite the way it would to someone raised on it.

Cocido is another matter entirely. Garbanzos and chorizo broth. What could be better when the weather turns nasty?

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